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Professor Michael Sandel


Michael SandelMichael J. Sandel (born March 5, 1953) is an American political philosopher and a political philosophy professor at Harvard University. His course “Justice” is the first Harvard course to be made freely available online and on television.

It has been viewed by tens of millions of people around the world, including in China, where Sandel was named the “most influential foreign figure of the year” (China Newsweek).

He is also known for his critique of John Rawls’ A Theory of Justice in his first book, Liberalism and the Limits of Justice (1982). He was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2002.

Sandel was born in Minneapolis but his family moved to Los Angeles when he was thirteen. He was president of his senior class at Palisades High School (1971) and graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Brandeis University with a bachelor’s degree in politics (1975). He received his doctorate from Balliol College, Oxford, as a Rhodes Scholar, where he studied under philosopher Charles Taylor.

 

Philosophical views

Sandel subscribes to a certain version of communitarianism (although he is uncomfortable with the label), and in this vein, he is perhaps best known for his critique of John Rawls’ A Theory of Justice. Rawls’ argument depends on the assumption of the veil of ignorance, which he claims allows us to become “unencumbered selves”.

Sandel’s view is that we are by nature encumbered to an extent that makes it impossible even in the hypothetical to have such a veil. Some examples of such ties are those with our families, which we do not make by conscious choice but are born with, already attached. Because they are not consciously acquired, it is impossible to separate oneself from such ties. Sandel believes that only a less-restrictive, looser version of the veil of ignorance should be postulated. Criticism such as Sandel’s inspired Rawls to subsequently argue that his theory of justice was not a “metaphysical” theory but a “political” one, a basis on which an overriding consensus could be formed among individuals and groups with many different moral and political views.

 

Sandel has taught the famous “Justice” course at Harvard for two decades. More than 15,000 students have taken the course, making it one of the most highly attended in Harvard’s history. The fall 2007 class was the largest ever at Harvard, with a total of 1,115 students. The fall 2005 course was recorded and is offered online. An abridged form of this recording is now a 12-episode TV series, Justice: What’s the Right Thing to Do?

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What now for GDS? Announcing Sprint 2018


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Photo: GDS;  Article Source: CWS (Civil Service World)

The digital transformation of government is critical to the successful delivery of public services. As the world’s number one digital government, the UK leads the way in this.

 

The Sprint 18 event – which is coming up on 10 May – will look at how we’ve built this world-leading digital government. And it will look at the work we, both in Government Digital Service and across departments, will be doing next.

Sprint 18, at London’s Southbank Centre, will bring together ministers, colleagues from across government, international visitors, media, and industry figures. It is being organised by GDS, but it will be a chance for everyone involved or interested in digital government to celebrate the progress we’ve made, and to look to the future.

Sprint 18 will focus on three themes:

  • Transformation: what the transformation of government really means – both for government and for users
  • Collaboration: how all of government, including GDS, is working together to deliver this change
  • Innovation: how government can use cutting-edge technology to solve real problems for users

Sprint 18 will show how these themes drive our work and our purpose – to help government work better for everyone.

For example, we’ll hear from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and Department of International Trade about how they’re using common components to build user-focused services. And we’ll hear from the UK Hydrographic Office about how they’re using innovative technologies to detect previously unknown shipping hazards.

The work we do around EU exit must have a long-term effect and must lead to a transformed government

Oliver Dowden, minister for implementation, will talk about building a government that works for everyone, while apolitical chief executive Robyn Scott will look at what the UK can learn from other governments to remain a global leader in digital.

Achievements
For me personally, Sprint will provide a welcome opportunity to step back and consider what GDS has achieved during the time I’ve been here. I joined GDS as director general in August 2016, coming up for two years ago. Since then, the organization has delivered a huge amount.

But before I detail these I want to talk about how GDS has become a better place to work. We’ve won awards for diversity and inclusion, including a Business in the Community award as one of the country’s best employers on race.

GDS now has a gender-balanced management team, and 42% of GDS staff declare as female – in the UK technology industry as a whole this figure is 17%.

The things GDS builds and operates are the foundation of government’s digital transformation. And we’ve seen an exponential shift in departments using these things.

There are now more than 242 services using common components like payments platform GOV.UK Pay and notifications platform GOV.UK Notify. By using these components, service teams make it easier for users to make online payments and stay up-to-date about the progress of applications.

In just over five years of live service, there have been more than 14 billion page views on GOV.UK – the single website for government, and the online home of our content and services.

Meanwhile, GOV.UK Verify has been used more than 5.4 million times to access services, while GovWifi is now available in more than 340 locations across the country, including 100 courtrooms, local councils, schools, and hospitals, as well as the UK Border Force’s fleet of boats.

Collaboration
Over the past two years, we’ve also seen a huge increase in collaboration between GDS and departments. This is particularly clear in two areas: controls and procurement.

Working with departments, we’ve updated the Technology Code of Practice so that it provides the best and most relevant guidance to the government. Also working with departments, we’ve streamlined the spend controls process to ensure that it remains rigorous, but isn’t a blocker for departments.

And we’re also taking this collaborative approach to improving procurement.

42%
Percentage of GDS staff who declare as female

37
Number of common digital, data, and technology job roles defined in the GDS-authored government framework

14 billion
the approximate number of page views on the GOV.UK site during its five-year lifespan

£3.2bn
Amount of money spent through the Digital Marketplace since its launch in 2012

242
Number of services using GDS Government-as-a-Platform companies, such as Pay, Notify and Verify

The Digital Marketplace is a partnership between GDS and the Crown Commercial Service that is transforming the way government buys technology and digital services by opening the market up to small and medium-sized enterprise (SME) suppliers.

A total of £3.2bn has been spent through the Digital Marketplace in just under six years. Of that total, 48% is spent with SMEs – that’s £1.43 of every £3.

In fact, the Digital Marketplace has been so successful that we’re now going global with it.

We’re working in partnership with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to develop the Global Digital Marketplace. This aims to help international governments make their procurement more transparent, in order to prevent corruption and to boost their digital, data, and technology sectors.

The Global Digital Marketplace is an example of how the UK is using its status as the world’s number-one digital government to work with and help other countries. We had 71 international government visits to GDS last year, and I am extremely proud of how we’re working with our global colleagues.

Brexit
I am also extremely proud of our role supporting the rest of the UK government as we prepare for EU exit. GDS is delivering and providing practical support across departments.

The work we do around EU exit must have a long-term effect as well – it must lead to a transformed government. This means several things.

The things GDS builds and operates are the foundation of government’s digital transformation. And we’ve seen an exponential shift in departments using these things.

It means continuing our work to build and maintain digital capability across government, through the expanding GDS Academy. The GDS Academy will have trained 10,000 students by October, and we’re expanding the curriculum to take in new subjects such as artificial intelligence.

And to give us an overview of digital capability across government, we’ve launched the first national framework of Digital, Data, and Technology (DDaT) job roles. This has created a structure of 37 common job roles across government.

And it means that GDS will be the place where new innovations for government digital are identified and tested. In the immediate term, we’re running the GovTech Catalyst scheme, to help private-sector innovators solve public-sector challenges.

GDS is tackling a broad range of work, but we have a set of core principles and a core mission.

We will show what good looks like, we will solve the hardest problems, we will help government transform, and we will reflect the society we serve. And by doing this we will help government work better for everyone.

About the author

Kevin Cunnington (pictured above) is director general of the Government Digital Service

Cameron accepted for Role in First Data appointment


David_Cameron_officialDavid Cameron is taking on a new job with US electronic payments firm First Data that will see him work as a “brand ambassador” for the technology business, the company has announced.

The former prime-minister’s part-time role with the Georgia-headquartered business was cleared by anti-corruption watchdog the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments in July, according to a just-published decision letter.

Like other former ministers and senior civil servants, Cameron was required to notify ACOBA of his plans so it could offer an opinion on the job’s suitability. Last month the body voiced concern after former GCHQ director Robert Hannigan’s appointment to a role with US cybersecurity firm BluteamGlobal was publicised before it had considered his request.

ACOBA said Cameron’s request to work for First Data was acceptable, provided that he did not seek to use the privileged information he had access to as prime minister for his work with the firm, or lobby the UK government on its behalf until July next year – two years after he left office.

Committee chair Baroness Angela Browning said she had consulted Cabinet Office perm sec John Manzoni on Cameron’s appointment, which is the sixth he has successfully sought clearance for since he stood down as prime minister after failing to secure a “remain” victory in 2016’s EU referendum.

“He confirmed that the government has no links with First Data in its procurement frameworks and has no concerns about you taking up this appointment,” she said.

Source: Civil Service World 

Monarch Airlines have ceased trading


downloadMonarch Airlines has ceased trading and all its future flights and holidays have been cancelled, affecting hundreds of thousands of customers.

About 860,000 people have lost bookings and more than 30 planes will be sent by the Civil Aviation Authority to return 110,000 holidaymakers who are overseas.

Monarch employs about 2,100 people and reported a £291m loss last year.

Terror attacks in Tunisia and Egypt, increased competition, and the weak pound have been blamed for its demise.

Theresa May’s official spokesman said the prime minister “feels hugely sorry” for those affected by a “very distressing situation”.

Monarch – the UK’s fifth biggest and the country’s largest ever to collapse – was placed in administration at 04:00 BST – a time when the airline had no planes in the air.

Passengers were then sent text messages informing them flights had been cancelled – but some customers were already at airports.

Who has been affected?

Alan Jee was due to get married in Gran Canaria on Saturday and arrived at Gatwick airport with 30 members of his family.

“I have spent £12,000 on my wedding and now I can’t even go and get married,” he said. “I am gutted, absolutely gutted, and my missus is in tears, an emotional wreck.”

Meanwhile, Mike Olley had been due to fly back to Birmingham from Malaga, in Spain, on Monday.

Debbie Abrahams re-examines Pensions in Corby


20882898_1569207366433820_7313971429905566976_nDEBBIE ABRAHAMS VISITS CORBY COUNCILS ‘CUBE’ BUILDING TO DISCUSS “DIGNITY AND SECURITY IN OLDER AGE: THE STATE PENSION” 

The event took place on 17th August 2017 hosted by the Constituency Labour Party with an introduction by Cllr Tom Beattie on the discussion of the increase of the pension age to 67 years to those born in the 1950’s and State Pension Age increase in years to come.

As Debbie Abrahams wrote recently

“Older people have been badly let down by the Tories. During this year’s General Election they failed to provide transitional protection to women born in the 1950s who have had the increase in their State Pension Age (SPa) accelerated; in addition, they failed to guarantee they would protect the State Pension ‘triple lock’ and Winter Fuel Allowance. Most recently the Government announced that they will be accelerating the increase in the SPa to 68 at the same time it was announced that increases in life expectancy had ‘ground to a halt’.

This contrasts to the Labour Party’s manifesto pledge to retain the triple lock and winter fuel allowance, as well as provide support for the 1950s born women through pensions credit and further transitional protections. Labour has also rejected the accelerated increase in the SPa to 68 and is examining options for a flexible retirement age.

As part of the Labour Party’s commitment to ensuring dignity and security in older age, we are launching a national conversation with communities across the country to discuss what this means in relation to the State Pension.”

The visit to Corby Cube was part of the Shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions national tour gaining public ideas and proposals in re-examining the State Pension and incentivising Private Pensions.

 

 

Eternal Blue was a NSA tool


Source: BBC News 

The huge cyber-attack affecting organisations around the world, including some UK hospitals, can be traced back to the US National Security Agency (NSA) – raising questions over the US government’s decision to keep such flaws a secret.

Elements of the malicious software used in Friday’s attacks were part of a treasure trove of cyber-attack tools leaked by hacking group the Shadow Brokers in April.

One of the tools contained in the Shadow Brokers leak, codenamed EternalBlue, proved to be “the most significant factor” in the spread of Friday’s global attack, according to cyber-security firm Kaspersky Lab.

The tool was said to have been created by the NSA – though, as is typical, the agency has neither confirmed nor denied this.

EternalBlue was made public on 14 April, and while Microsoft had fixed the problem a month prior to its leak, it appeared many high-profile targets had not updated their systems to stay secure.

Friday’s attack has reignited the debate over whether or not governments should disclose vulnerabilities they have discovered or bought on the black market.

“It would be deeply troubling if the NSA knew about this vulnerability but failed to disclose it to Microsoft until after it was stolen,” said Patrick Toomey, a lawyer working for the American Civil Liberties Union.

“These attacks underscore the fact that vulnerabilities will be exploited not just by our security agencies, but by hackers and criminals around the world.

“Patching security holes immediately, not stockpiling them, is the best way to make everyone’s digital life safer.”

Edward Snowden, who famously leaked many internal NSA files in June 2013, criticised the NSA on Friday in a series of tweets.

“In light of today’s attack, Congress needs to be asking [the NSA] if it knows of any other vulnerabilities in software used in our hospitals,” he wrote.

“If [the NSA] had privately disclosed the flaw used to attack hospitals when they found it, not when they lost it, this may not have happened.”

Outdated systems

However, others focused the blame at institutions for being too slow in updating their systems, given that this attack happened almost two months after a (free) fix was made available by Microsoft.

“Say what you want to say about the NSA or disclosure process,” said Zeynep Tufeki, a professor at the University of North Carolina.

“But this is one in which what’s broken is the system by which we fix.”

For the UK’s National Health Service, the problem is perhaps more acute.

Security firms have continually raised alarms about the NHS’s reliance on Windows XP, an operating system that is no longer supported by Microsoft.

Meanwhile ….

Blogger tells BBC how he ‘accidentally’ halted the Ransomeware by discovering a “kill switch” inside the Malware.

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“A UK security researcher has told the BBC how he “accidentally” halted the spread of the malicious ransomware that has affected hundreds of organisations, including the UK’s NHS.

The 22-year-old man, known by the pseudonym MalwareTech, had taken a week off work, but decided to investigate the ransomware after hearing about the global cyber-attack.

He managed to bring the spread to a halt when he found what appeared to be a “kill switch” in the rogue software’s code.

“It was actually partly accidental,” he told the BBC, after spending the night investigating. “I have not slept a wink.”

Although his discovery did not repair the damage done by the ransomware, it did stop it spreading to new computers, and he has been hailed an “accidental hero”.

“I would say that’s correct,” he told the BBC.

 

 

House of Lords launch Future Nuclear Power inquiry


25 January 2017

The House of Lords Science and Technology Committee launches an inquiry into the priorities for nuclear research and technologies.

In 2011 the Committee investigated whether the UK’s research and development (R&D) capabilities were sufficient to meet our nuclear energy needs in the future, ensuring a safe and secure supply of nuclear energy up to 2050.

This inquiry will now revisit some of the conclusions and recommendations of that report and investigate whether the Government’s actions in response have improved the UK’s nuclear R&D capabilities. It will also explore what more needs to be done to ensure the UK can meet its future nuclear energy requirements.

The Committee will look specifically at the upcoming decision by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy on a small modular reactor (SMR) design for the UK; whether the roles and remit of the National Nuclear Laboratory (NNL) are appropriate; and if the Nuclear Innovation and Research Advisory Board (NIRAB) was successful.

The Committee invites submissions, with practical examples where possible, on topics including those mentioned below.

Questions

  • Where the responsibility should lie for ensuring the UK has a coherent and consistent long term policy for civil nuclear activities
  • Potential benefits, disadvantages and risks from the deployment of SMRs in the UK and more widely
  • Whether the Government is doing enough to fund research and development on SMRs, and in motivating others to do so
  • If the NNL is fulfilling its remit appropriately and whether it can deliver the required research to support the UK’s future nuclear energy policies
  • How the NNL compares to equivalent organisations in other countries
  • How successful NIRAB was in carrying out its role and whether a permanent successor body to NIRAB is required

Chairman’s comments

Chair of the Committee, Lord Selborne, said:

“It has been over 5 years since the Committee’s report into the future of nuclear energy which found that the Government was too complacent about the UK’s nuclear R&D capabilities.
Since its publication, the Government has accepted and acted on a number of the recommendations of the Committee, which saw the creation of the Nuclear Innovation and Research Advisory Board.
This inquiry gives the Committee the opportunity to assess who should have responsibility for ensuring the UK has a coherent and consistent long term policy for civil nuclear activities.
We are keen to hear from people or organisations who can inform the Committee on the role and remit of the National Nuclear Laboratory or offer insight into how SMR’s will benefit the UK and what is needed to support the civil nuclear sector”.

Timeline

The Committee is inviting written evidence on the issue, to be received by Friday 24 February 2017, and will start taking oral evidence on the inquiry in February.

Government backs Homelessness Reduction Bill


24 October 2016 2:48 pm | By Carl Brown courtesy : Inside Housing Journal)

The government will support the Homelessness Reduction Bill, the communities secretary has announced.
Sajid Javid, in parliament today, confirmed ministers will back the bill, which would impose duties on councils to prevent homelessness. Ministers had previously said they would consider options, including legislation, to prevent homelessness but until today had stopped short of supporting the bill.

Mr Javid said: “No one should have to sleep rough on the streets.  We want to build a country that works for everyone, not just the privileged few. That’s why we are determined to do all we can to help those who lose their homes and provide them with the support they need to get their lives back on track.”

The bill, tabled by Conservative backbench MP Bob Blackman, has been supported by homelessness charities. It is made up of 12 measures (see below).

A new version of the bill was published last week following negotiations with bodies including the Local Government Association.

The original bill included a new duty on councils to provide emergency temporary accommodation for 56 days to people with a local connection but who are not in priority need and who have nowhere safe to stay.

Councils have said that such a duty would place too much pressure on local authorities, which are already struggling to keep up with spiralling homelessness demand. This duty has now been removed from the bill, on the basis that it would be too costly.

Jon Sparkes, chief executive of Crisis, said: “In backing Bob Blackman’s Homelessness Reduction Bill, the government has shown its continued determination to tackle homelessness. I am also grateful for the personal tenacity and commitment shown by Department for Communities and Local Government ministers in helping get to this important milestone.

The bill is due to receive its second reading in the House of Commons on Friday. It still needs the support of 100 MPs to protect the bill from risk of being ‘talked out’.

Mr Sparkes said: “While we warmly welcome today’s announcement, there remains a real risk that unless MPs offer their support at the bill’s second reading on Friday, this historic opportunity could easily be lost.”

 
AT-A-GLANCE: THE HOMELESSNESS REDUCTION BILL

The bill is made up of 12 measures:

1.         A change to the meaning of “homeless” and “threatened with homelessness”. Each household that has received an eviction notice is to be treated as homeless from the date on which the notice expires, and the period at which a person is threatened with homelessness is changed from 28 to 56 days.

2.         All homeless people have access to free advice and information.

3.         Local authorities are required to carry out an assessment of what led to each applicant’s homelessness, and set out steps to remedy this in an agreed, written plan.

4.         Local authorities are required to help to secure accommodation for all eligible households who are threatened with homelessness, and at an earlier stage.

5.         Local authorities are required to provide those who find themselves homeless with support for a further period of 56 days to help to secure accommodation.

6.         Local authorities are able to take action to help to secure accommodation under the new duties to help homeless households.

7.         Households in priority need who refuse to co-operate with prevention and/or relief activity will be offered a minimum of a six month private rented sector tenancy. They will not progress to the main homelessness duty. Households not in priority need who refuse to co-operate would be provided with advice and information only.

8.         All young people leaving care will be deemed to have a local connection in the area of the local authority that is responsible for providing them with leaving care services under the Children Act 1989.

9.         Applications are provided with the right to request a review in relation to the prevention and relief duties.

10.       The Bill introduces a duty on specified local agencies to refer those either homeless or at risk of being homeless to local authority housing teams

11.       The Secretary of State has a power to produce a statutory Code of Practice to raise the standards of homelessness support services across the country.

12.       A local housing authority must satisfy itself that specific requirements are in place where it secures accommodation for vulnerable households in the private rented sector.

Osbourne announces Government Spending Cuts


George Osborne has started to look for savings in Government spending by asking Whitehall departments to implement spending, ordering them to make an immediate start on finding the £13bn of cuts needed in an attempt to further find money in his deficit reduction plan.

The chancellor announced at an event told the CBI that he intended to make savings from all government spending, other than finance already earmarked in areas of health, schools and overseas aid in his summer budget on 8 July.

“When it comes to saving money, we all know that the more you can do early, the smoother the ride”” – George Osborne

Mr. Osborne is hoping to put into place his tough measures as quickly as possible and has given Greg Hands the job of asking Government Departments new chief secretary to the Treasury ways of reducing plans the 2015-16 plans to fast-track the three-year budget of existing cuts.

CPAG – Guidance on Shared Parental Leave


Shared parental leave and statutory shared parental pay is being introduced for couples expecting a baby or adopting a child on or after 5 April 2015. This replaces additional paternity leave and pay, and offers more flexibility to couples to share the responsibility for the child and protect their income in the first year.

Shared parental leave is available to parents who share the care of a child with husband, wife, civil partner or joint adopter the child’s other parent a partner (living together) –  includes same sex couples.

The mother must first meet the qualifying conditions for maternity leave, statutory maternity pay or maternity allowance, and then decide to give it up in favour of shared parental leave and pay. The other parent/partner must also meet conditions about employment and earnings. Opting for shared parental leave allows leave and pay to be split between each person and into up to three separate blocks of leave in the first year. It can also be taken at the same time, allowing a couple more time together with the baby.

Alternatively, statutory maternity leave and statutory maternity pay can still be claimed as before by women who choose to do so, or are lone parents, or whose partner is not in work. Similarly, statutory adoption leave and pay can still be claimed instead of shared parental leave. ‘Ordinary’ paternity leave and pay (1 or 2 weeks in the first 8 weeks after the birth) is not affected by the change, other than now simply being known as ‘paternity leave’ and statutory paternity pay.  

Tax credit rules are also amended so that someone receiving shared parental pay, or on shared parental leave for up to 39 weeks, can still be treated as in work, if working immediately before.

More information on shared parental leave is available at www.gov.uk/shared-parental-leave-and-pay

Windows 10 and Hololens!


 windows-10-logo-100465106-large

This week Microsoft unveiled it’s new plans to package a holographic headset to accompany it’s new operating system soon to be released, Windows 10.

The “Hololens” as it’s known, will be shipped with the new operating along with it’s voice activated software “Cortana” which is already available on it’s phones. The holograph headset, will allow users to wirelessly view holograms and both have a due date when they will be available it’s expected later in

the autumn period this year. Screen-Shot-2015-01-21-at-3.03.41-PM-780x432

 

This may also herald a new form of playing games, because it’s hoped that software that’s running on this operating system may also make use of this new form of virtual reality.  holographic

(Image : Mashable.com)

It’s also expected that Windows 10 will be a free upgrade for Windows 7 and 8/8.1 users during it’s first year. Those who don’t upgrade or are not Windows 7 Vista users and upward operating system users will have to buy the product in full.  Currently it’s not known how much this will be as there is confusion on pricing but it’s expected that Microsoft will charge a one off licence fee and not move to having to subscribe to it. microsoft-satya-nadella

Microsofts new CEO, Satya Nadella said of his hopes for Windows in the future “We want to move from people needing Windows, to choosing Windows, to loving Windows, that is our goal.”

 

Read more: http://uk.businessinsider.com/microsoft-ceo-satya-nadella-on-windows-10-2015-1#ixzz3PZf4iwCD

Read more: http://www.itpro.co.uk/operating-systems/23119/windows-10-release-date-specs-and-pricing-announced#ixzz3PZdoHfHS

America’s resurgence is real says President


barack-obama-president-wallpaperPresident Obama reflected on the growth of America in 2014 stating that the increase in 11 million more jobs, affordability of better healthcare, the lowering of oil and gas in light of increased oil/gas production he said of his hopes for an increasing economy:

‘The steps that we took early on to rescue our economy and rebuild it on a new foundation helped make 2014 the strongest year for job growth since the 1990s. All told, over a 57-month streak, our businesses have created nearly 11 million new jobs. Almost all the job growth that we’ve seen have been in full-time positions. Much of the recent pickup in job growth has been in higher-paying industries. And in a hopeful sign for middle-class families, wages are on the rise again.’

Speaking on manufacturing and the increased oil and gas production rate the President said :

‘American manufacturing have helped fuel its best stretch of job growth also since the 1990s. America is now the number-one producer of oil, the number-one producer of natural gas. We’re saving drivers about 70 cents a gallon at the pump over last Christmas. And effectively today, our rescue of the auto industry is officially over. We’ve now repaid taxpayers every dime and more of what my administration committed, and the American auto industry is on track for its strongest year since 2005.’

Virgin Galactic getting to Space


Virgin is now seriously nearer to making the reality of commercial space flight. It’s taken them time to get the dream of taking passengers 6 miles away from  earth at propulsion rates of 25,000 miles per hour in their rocket – once out there it will be quiet up in space, our nearest planet is the moon at 384,400 km – which takes 27  days to reach from earth.  A. C. Clarke predicted we might build space stations in space to one day go further – these stations would be there to traverse the distance he predicted at a possible flight to one of our further planets in our Solar system; Saturn, which would take 7 years and is  1.67 billion km away. Dreams they are – but the dream of realistic space flight one day for everyone is slowly getting nearer.

Queen “Not Served Well” by Her Treasury and Household


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The Chair of the Committee of Public Accounts, said today following a report on the Treasury and the Queen’s Household which deals with the Queen’s accounts that the Queen has not been ‘served well’.

Margaret Hodge MP said that where the committee welcomed the creation of a new ‘Sovereign Grant’ that  consolidates the civil list and provides financial resources for the Household to support The Queen’s official duties, which should provide more visibility and accountability of the Royal Household’s spending on the Queen’s official business.

But she also said that the “the Queen has not been served well by the Household and by the Treasury, which is responsible for effective scrutiny of the Household’s financial planning and management.” and urged the Treasury to get actively involved in reviewing the Household’s financial planning and management.

The committee outlined three areas where the Household and the Treasury have fallen short.

Firstly the committee said that the Household was spending more than it was receiving; spending £33.3m more than the £31 million grant it received in 2012-13 which meant it had to get £2.3 million it’s Reserve Fund to make up it’s deficit.

It also recommends that the Household should plan and manage budgets over a longer term with the Treasury becoming more  involved.

The third proposal from the committee involved it’s management of important heritage buildings; where it is thought it is not being adequately managed the Parliamentary committee reported that in March 2012, 39% of the Royal estate was assessed as below what the Household deemed to be an acceptable condition.

Mrs Hodge said the “the Household must get a much firmer grip” on addressing it’s  maintenance backlog. and that there was “scope for the Household to generate more income and reduce its costs further.” the Committee also concluded that the The Royal Household should reserve a sufficient  level of money in it’s contingency  Reserve Fund to cover any unforeseen demands on The Queens programme.

Queen not served well by UK Treasury and the Royal Household

Churchill replaces Elizabeth Fry on the £5 note


Elizabeth FryThis week Mervyn King, the Governor of the Bank of England, announced Winston Churchill will replace social reformer Elizabeth Fry as the face of £5 notes. This means that, other than the Queen, there will be no women featuring on our English bank notes.

An all-male line-up on our banknotes sends out the damaging message that no woman has done anything important enough to appear. This is patently untrue. Not only have numerous women emerged as leading figures in their fields, they have done so against the historic odds stacked against them which denied women a public voice and relegated them to the private sphere – making their emergence into public life all the more impressive and worthy of celebration.

For more information on this petition see: Change.org

G20 To Tackle Tax Avoidance


G20 Finance Meeting in Moscow 2013The finance ministers meeting today at the G20 held in Moscow have today pledged to ensure that multinational companies will no longer be able shifting profits from a home country to pay less tax elsewhere – the aim is to prevent tax avoidance by large companies.

France, Britain and Germany have been the main proponents seeking radical changes to existing european legal loopholes and members of these countries also promised to refrain devaluing their currencies to gain economic advantage; which could cause a “currency war”.

The fears had been sparked by Japan’s recent policies, which have driven down the value of the yen, aiding its exporters.

Organisation of Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) found that multinational firms could exploit gaps between tax rules in the different countries in which they operate.

The finance ministers of the UK, France and Germany – George Osborne, Pierre Moscovici and Wolfgang Schaeuble have called for international action to crack down on companies transferring profits from their originating country to another in order to lower the tax paid.

Mr Osborne decried a global taxation system he said had been guided by principles set out by the League of Nations in the 1920s, with few changes since.

How does Price Fixing work?

An imaginary company CiceroUK Ltd is a subsidiary of the imaginary US company CiceroCorp. It provides books from the paper that’s manufactured at Paper Corp factories in China, and then sells them in the UK.

CiceroUK Ltd’s profit statement

Total sales revenues £100m
– Cost of Paper from China £50m
– Labour costs and UK overheads £25m
Royalty fee paid to Paper Corp * £15m
– Interest on loan from CiceroCorp £5m
Total costs £95m
Taxable profit (revenues minus costs) £5m

“Transfer pricing” rules apply to the cost of parts, the fee payment and the interest on the loan. If Paper Corp overcharged for any of these, it would reduce CiceroUK corporation tax bill in the UK, while increasing CiceroCorp axable profits in another country.

*For usage of intellectual property rights and brands owned by the US company

For more information in how companies are avoiding paying Corporate Tax see http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-20580545

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Barclays and Libor Fixing


Calls today came for the resignation of Bob Diamond the boss of Barclays Bank after the bank has been found to have adjusted the  inter-bank lending rate – known as the The Libor rate (the average interest rate that leading banks in London charge when lending to other banks) to it’s own favour.

David Cameron says Barclays has “serious questions to answer” over Libor fixing and George Osborne describes the scandal as a “shocking indictment” of the banks amid calls for the bank’s chief executive Bob Diamond to resign.

George Osborne on Thursday threatened tougher sanctions for banks after Barclays was hit with a record fine for trying to manipulate a benchmark interest rate. Shares in Barclays fell more than 15 per cent at one stage, with Royal Bank of Scotland, Lloyds Banking Group and HSBC also down sharply.

Ed Miliband the labour leader has called for a criminal investigation to take place into the Barclays Bank rate fixing but it appears Barclays are not the only high profile bank that may be affected as many other high street banks may be guilty of irregular practice – including Lloyds Bank and HSBC

The FSA have said they are unable to take legal action against Barclays due their lack of power in dealing with this sort of action in terms of mortgage lending interest powers when they were formulated.

The coalition is already reforming the regulatory regime and dismantling the regulator, the Financial Services Authority.

Mr Osbourne dubbing the period from 2005 to 2007 “the age of irresponsibility”, he attacked the previous Labour government saying it was “literally clueless” when Barclays was manipulating Libor.

 

Court orders Pirate Bay Block


A UK court has ordered the country’s internet service providers (ISPs) to block the Pirate Bay website for copyright violations, using technology initially  intended to block illegal pornography sites.

Pirate Bay is a torrent search engine that allows users peer-to-peer (P2P) file-sharing links to files and although in the past it allowed users to download  copyright material such as films, music and programs. It also though provided quite legitimate file sharing of users own produced files.

The site itself does not host or have copyright file content so a ban would mean that those sharing legitimate files through torrents would no longer be able to in the UK audience due to a Internet ISP ban of the Pirate Bay torrent search engine in the UK – another example of growing online censorship.

Could a Ban work though?

A simple ban is unlikely to work due to the fact that the site could be copied or re-hosted elsewhere – just as when WikiLeaks was ‘mirrored’ elsewhere when it faced it’s ban by ISPs through US Government pressure; however anonymizing software could bypass simple a ISP block.

The only effective way to block such torrent search engines such as Pirate Bay would require software that would inspect internet traffic – “deep packet inspection” that also blocked the anonymizing software.

Such a task the James Ball commenting in the Guardian newspaper “would require apparatus as sophisticated as the great firewall of China.”

Darling, the man who saved the banks!


alistair_darling_the_man_who_saved_the_banksThe Chancellor from the last Labour Government should be hailed as the man who saved the UK Banking system from financial collapse.  Alistair Darling (MP for Edinburgh South West). He should be known for the fact that he was he who was solely responsible for actually avoiding a complete UK financial and banking meltdown.Even the telegraph has described him as a person who would be best suited as forerunner for the position of leader of the Labour Party in the past

It was he who took the decision to save the Royal Bank of Scotland, Halifax (HBOS), and Northern Rock and doing so also prevented virtually every other major bank in the UK from closing. At the time he is famously known as the bad guy who predicted that the world economy had reached the lowest point in a “60 year financial period” and said it may take decades – as his prediction is now proving – to recover.

In an interview in The Guardian  published 30 August 2008, Alistair Darling warned, “The economic times we are facing… are arguably the worst they’ve been in 60 years. And I think it’s going to be more profound and long-lasting than people thought.” His  warning led to confusion within the LabourGovernment who were oblivious to the problem – Darling, insisting it was his duty to be “straight” with people

Unlike US Government who took the decision not to help the major investment institution Lehman Brothers deal with their mounting toxic assets thus causing greater economic disaster worldwide  – Alistair Darling avoided the UK going into a worse scenario in the UK – he took the decision without requiring legislation (as the US would require) to save Britain’s major banks.

Below is an address he made to the London School of Economics which describes the actions he needed to take whilst in his position as chancellor when in 2008 the emerging European (including UK and Ireland) institutions started to feel the effects of the US financial market collapse.

Checkers and Rally’s – Undercover Boss USA


Rick Silva CEO of a fast food company Checkers and Rally broke the rules of the normal “Undercover Boss USA”, when he on his first night closed one of his outlets down due to lack of training; lack of food quality and after witnessing a newly appointed un-trained manager over-pressuring his staff to the point of actually being  rude to them. The manager said he was merely following the company’s need for fast delivery in the restaurant and had only three weeks training himself. After witnessing this and the confession of a chef who said he’d trained himself and was hoping to go to a college to study a degree in catering – he closed the restaurant over food not being cooked at his correct standard and called for training of all staff on working politely as a team and  quality in his food over speed of food delivery.  The chef later was provided a college place to take his degree with the approval of the company and his degree course fully paid for by the company.  

The show is an insight into how good bosses really work well at analysing their company’s performance and is broadcast over here in the UK and the US.

Having worked for great companies and bosses in my time – I love this show personally, as it shows how good bosses are investors in people and the show highlights the bosses warmth and sensitivity towards their staff because they work hard in their own position either in starting their companies or getting to their position as directors of companies..

Rick Silva discusses the company and the show on Fox News

The show often clearly demonstrates that success and achievements requires not losing sight of original goals and objectives of their company and more importantly focus on the people in their company and  providing high level of customer satisfaction while maintaining a profit in each individual market. A hard balance in often economically and commercial austere times.

It’s refreshing to see how good bosses know how to step back and look at improving their companies and rewarding their staff appropriately.

Sky News

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